EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Israel sucked into war in Lebanon
, August 19, 2006
The United Nations has shown itself to be utterly powerless to stop Hezbollah's military operations against Israel.
The Lebanese-based Islamist organisation, Hezbollah, has succeeded in sucking Israel into war in southern Lebanon, through its armed incursion which cost the lives of several Israeli soldiers, and the capture of two others.
Some have speculated that the war was started by accident: that Hezbollah's operations were just part of a continuing campaign to destabilise Israel, and the organisation had no intention of sparking war. What is certain is that no state in the Middle East would ever consider launching raids across the border or fire rockets into Israel and expect no response.
It is now also clear that Hezbollah has long been preparing for war with Israel in southern Lebanon. Its heavily-armed militias, equipped with mortars and rockets, have been positioned in the midst of the heavily-populated, overwhelmingly Shi'ite towns and villages of southern Lebanon.
This was clearly designed so that attacks on Hezbollah positions would bring about the likelihood of disastrous civilian deaths, particularly of women and children. There have also been eyewitness reports of Hezbollah forces turning back fleeing refugees at gunpoint.International opinion
The Israeli bombing of UN peacekeepers and the killing of women and children have turned international opinion against Israel. Spain, which itself has been the subject of suicide bombings, condemned the Israeli air strike that killed 57 people in the Lebanese village of Qana, and one politician - without a shred of evidence - even accused Israel of using hostages in its war on Hezbollah.
Despite Israel's complete control of the air and its capacity to rain down bombs at will, Hezbollah has continued to fire hundreds of Iranian missiles into northern Israel, hitting targets as far away as Haifa. Its leader has even threatened to fire missiles on Jerusalem.
Israel's response to the Hezbollah attack was designed to achieve three objectives. By destroying roads and bridges in Southern Lebanon, Israel wanted to prevent the guerillas from escaping to other parts of the country. Unfortunately, it also guaranteed that large numbers of civilians would be locked into a war zone with no chance of escape.
Second, Israel hoped that, by destroying Lebanese infrastructure - including power stations, the Beirut airport and other facilities - it would separate the Lebanese Government from Hezbollah. In fact, the attacks had the opposite effect, in part because Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese Government and because it has always been clear that the Lebanese Government has no influence over Hezbollah's operations.
Finally, Israel planned to destroy the Hezbollah force in southern Lebanon. This has not happened and, arguably, is impossible. Hezbollah is not merely a military organisation; it is the de facto
government in this part of the country, and has the fierce loyalty of most of the people.
It runs schools, medical clinics and provides social services in southern Lebanon, and an alliance of Amal and Hezbollah won all 23 seats in the area.
Even if the Israelis were able to destroy the Hezbollah forces, it would legitimise the organisation in the eyes of the large mass of disaffected Arabs. If the Israelis fail, Hezbollah will be extremely popular; and either way, the deaths of Lebanese will serve to recruit disaffected youths into Hezbollah's ranks for years to come.
Hezbollah has very deep roots into the local community, and the only way in which Hezbollah could be removed from the area, as Israel demands, is for the entire area to be depopulated. In a country of almost 4 million people, this is not possible. In any case, Hezbollah claims that some of the territory seized by Israel in 1968 constitutes part of Lebanon, and it demands its return.
The fighting in southern Lebanon is, in one sense, a proxy war between the United States which backs Israel, and Iran which provides ideological, military and religious direction to Hezbollah.
The United States has long wanted to settle scores with Hezbollah, which it has declared a terrorist organisation. Hezbollah is accused by Washington of being responsible for the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut; of organising the suicide-bombing that killed 241 U.S. Marines in their barracks in Beirut in October 1983; of bombing the replacement U.S. Embassy in East Beirut on September 20, 1984; and of carrying out the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 between Athens and Rome.
Iran, on the other hand, wants to destroy Israel, and uses Hezbollah as its willing ally in advancing this objective.
In the current war, it appears that, despite suffering massive casualties, Hezbollah has basically achieved its objectives.
On the other hand, negotiating a real ceasefire will be difficult because the UN has shown itself to be utterly powerless to stop Hezbollah's military operations. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was created in 1978 to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security, and help the Lebanese Government restore its effective authority in the area.
The UN force of over 2,000 troops from eight countries has done nothing to prevent the Hezbollah buildup over recent years. Why should it be more successful in the future?
- Peter Westmore is president of the National Civic Council.